THRIVING SMALL BUSINESSES IN WYOMING: Sheridan Fishing Travel Company More Than Meets the Eye
Turning a passion for the outdoors into a life’s work
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jun 12, 2023
Clark Smyth is co-owner of Angling Destinations, a fly-fishing travel agency based in Sheridan, Wyoming. Smyth is pictured here with an Argentine brown trout. (Courtesy photo from Angling Destinations)
By Bob Wooley
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Like some — well at least a few — stories of angling glory, travel and adventure, this fish tale starts not in Wyoming, but in its neighbor to the south. That’s where Clark Smyth, co-owner of Sheridan-based Angling Destinations, was born, raised and fell in love with fly-fishing.
Smyth said goodbye to Colorado when a chance to play hockey for Union College in Schenectady, New York, proved to be a siren’s song he couldn’t resist. A career in hockey wasn’t to be. But a growing love of the outdoors proved eternal and pointed Smyth toward a future of business and adventure most only dream of.
After college, Smyth made his way to Wyoming to work as a fishing guide for one of the three companies he now owns.
Smyth worked as a guide for Rock Creek Anglers for about four years when its founder, Scott Heywood, offered to sell him the company. At the age of 25, Smyth didn’t have other plans, so he decided to go for it.
A short time later, the owner of Fly Shop of the Bighorns, impressed with Smyth’s business skills, hired Rock Creek to be his company’s guide service. And when he decided to sell it, Smyth, once again, seemed the most logical choice to take the reins.
“So, I bought the fly shop, and right around that same time, the founder of Angling Destinations wanted to retire and thought I would be a good candidate to buy his company, too,” Smyth said.
Smyth, now 46, said it was a huge leap of faith to make at such a young age. But realizing all three businesses had been around for almost 30 years each, and each had a solid following, he figured it was a leap worth taking.
“I got into the first business, Rock Creek Anglers, not knowing where it was going to end, and — knock wood — luckily, it still hasn’t ended,” he said.
Offering the world
Smyth’s risk-taking paid off: Today, his three angling companies gross nearly $4 million in annual sales.
While Smyth and his team at Rock Creek Anglers offer novice anglers everything they need to try the sport on for size, Fly Shop of the Bighorns rents rods, reels and waders. By combining river and stream access, wise stewardship of the water and personal attention of a fishing guide, Smyth’s businesses give anglers who want to fish the Bighorn area an all-encompassing level of service.
Of Smyth’s three businesses, Angling Destinations — a fly-fishing travel agency — may be the most exotic. It helps anglers from around the world plan trips to the hundreds of fishing lodges it represents.
“Mexico, Belize, Brazil, Bolivia — the list of places we go is long and varied, for sure,” Smyth said, noting his company gets paid a referral fee from the lodges. “Most of the people we put trips together for don’t ever come to Sheridan, Wyoming. They use our service, mostly because it’s free.”
Smyth said customers value the services Angling Destinations offers beyond just booking accommodations. These might include arranging a shuttle from the airport to the lodge or ensuring customers have proper gear, the right flies and essential information for their particular destination.
“We kind of hold their hands through all of the technical aspects of the fishing, [which] they may not get through the lodge,” Smyth said, adding that his team shares information about tide schedules for ocean fishing and where fish are active in certain stretches of rivers. “Or there may be a language barrier in Mexico or South America that we can help them with.”
Smyth’s love of fishing and travel have made for memorable experiences in far-flung locations even the most well-traveled angler may envy. Take Mongolia, for example.
“There are no power lines, there are no roads. They haven’t tried to change the course of rivers to keep them out of agriculture,” Smyth said. “Mongolia looks a lot like southern Montana probably did 200 years ago.”
Smyth’s passion for travel is clear when he talks about the Iberá marshland in northern Argentina that teems with tropical freshwater fish. His description brings to mind an almost mythic wild space four times the size of the Everglades where capybara, caymans and anacondas are as common as people.
Angling Destinations also hosts a handful of outings each year where they not only book and organize the trip, but Smyth, business partner Cole Burnham or an employee also goes along as a guide or go-between for the lodge and the group. Next up is a trip to Bolivia. Smyth will help customers navigate between the airport and the hotel, as well as fly into the Bolivian rainforest—something folks are a bit wary about doing on their own.
As it turned out, buying Angling Destinations proved to be a smart business move for Smyth. It allows him to generate income during the off-season for Rock Creek Anglers and the typically slower winter season for Fly Shop of the Bighorns. Currently, Smyth and Burnham employ around 21 people—16 as seasonal guides for Rock Creek Anglers and the rest as staff at the fly shop.
Rock Creek, aside from offering guide services out of the fly shop, also provides guide services for HF Bar Ranch in Saddlestring, Wyoming, northwest of Buffalo. Smyth said it’s difficult to overstate how much more enjoyable a fly-fishing experience can be for a novice, with the help of a knowledgeable guide.
“Giving people the proper fundamentals is a huge thing,” he said, “because it lessens that steep learning curve and lets the customer have fun, which is the whole point.”
No interview with a fishing guide who’s logged as many miles as Smyth would be complete without asking him to identify his favorite fishing spots. His simple answer: Wherever he’s fishing that day.
From fly-fishing as a child on the banks of rivers in Colorado to leading expeditions around the globe, Smyth has maintained a sense of joy and appreciation for earning a living doing a job he loves.
“To go and see these wild and truly scenic places — the fishing is the icing on the cake, but the overall experience is so much more encompassing,” he said. “There are still a lot of incredible places in the world to see, and they’re definitely worth the price of admission.”